20 Best Value Colleges For Students With Autism

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Schools For Students With Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition that affects a whole host of mental processes and can cause significant developmental delays. People with autism may struggle with basic social skills, have trouble communicating, and/or exhibit repetitive or rigid behaviors. However, ASD does not typically affect general intelligence. In fact, some individuals may show superior cognitive ability in certain areas, while autistic savants have been known to exhibit an extreme aptitude in art, music, math, or general memorization. More information is available at AutismSpeaks.org.

The symptoms of Autism (or in its less severe form, Asperger’s Syndrome) cause challenges that can persist throughout life. Daily functioning can be especially difficult for college students with ASD, who may struggle to make friends, communicate with professors, and adapt to the dynamic environment of a college campus. Fortunately, some colleges have developed support programs that uniquely cater to the needs of students “on the spectrum.”

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Top 10 Rankings

Rank School Location
1 University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
2 University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
3 Mercyhurst University Erie, PA
4 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY
5 Edinboro University Edinboro, PA
6 Defiance College Defiance, OH
7 University of Montana Missoula, MT
8 Rutgers University New Brunswick, NJ
9 Western Michigan University Kalamazoo, MI
10 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX

The 20 Best Value Autism College Support Programs Methodology

First, we created a list of all the four-year, public and private (non-profit) colleges and universities in the U.S. that offer supplementary assistance programs specifically for individuals with ASD (general learning disability programs did not count). After that, we carefully examined each program to assess the quality and comprehensiveness of the resources they offer.

We awarded each program 0, 10, or 20 points based on the quality of support it provides in five categories (maximum 100 points) to make ASD students happier and SAFER on campus:

  • Social (e.g. peer mentoring, social skill development, group activities)
  • Academic (e.g. tutoring, study hall)
  • Functioning (e.g. life counseling/coaching, daily check-ins, help navigating campus, advocacy support)
  • Employment (e.g. career training, résumé and interview help, job connections)
  • Residential (e.g. designated living quarters, single-room options, ASD-knowledgeable resident assistants)

Because students on the spectrum will likely want to be around like-minded peers while they are in college, we gave schools an extra boost based on the percentage of undergraduates with disabilities they have formally registered on campus. For example, a college at which 6% of the undergraduate student body has a documented learning disability would earn 6*1.5 = 9 extra points.

Lastly, we assigned points based on each school’s net price and autism college support program fees* and subtracted these values from their total score (this is a ranking about value, after all!). For example, a school with an annual net price of $25,000 and program fees of $5000/semester would lose 2.5 + 5*2 = 12.5 points.

*A few of the fee-based programs do not provide specific information about expenses. To fill in the gaps, we assigned these schools a default fee of $6,700/year, which we calculated by taking the average program cost of all the other schools in the ranking.

The final results are below. Enjoy!


  1. University of Alabama
    Location

    Tuscaloosa, AL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Alabama makes autism support a collaborative affair thanks to its unique method of staffing its college transition program. Because the program is run by the University of Alabama Autism Spectrum Disorders Research Clinic, its staff includes a blend of undergraduates, graduate students, and licensed clinical psychologists. But the quality of the staff is not the only reason UA stands out among the best colleges with autism programs. In fact, ACTS primarily earns its reputation thanks to its diverse catalog of support services. These include thrice weekly check-ins with a therapist/mentor, weekly living skills check-ins, and progress reports from instructors to ensure that students are getting the help they need in the classroom.

  2. University of West Florida
    Location

    Pensacola, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Those who stand to benefit from one-on-one assistance might want to consider the University of West Florida. Through "Argos for Autism," this top college for autistic students provides individualized academic, social, and career support. Professional coaches not only help with academic planning and study skills, but they also work to smooth the transition to college and provide guidance on day-to-day issues. ASD students who are nervous about move-in can also take advantage of a relatively inexpensive (just $100) early move-in program. This option includes two days of activities specifically designed for undergrads who are new to dorm housing and independent living.

  3. Mercyhurst University
    Location

    Erie, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    When Mercyhurst set out to develop its top autism college support program, it made sure to ask representatives from all administrative offices for their input. The result is a collaborative, well-rounded program that supports students in all aspects of their college life. And although it's intended primarily for students with top-notch academic skills, all participants will benefit from the dizzying range of services that AIM provides. In addition to a focus on self-advocacy and independent living, other AIM features include early registration for classes, special housing options for students on the spectrum, and an on-site social skills group.

  4. Western Kentucky University
    Location

    Bowling Green, KY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The affordable Asperger's college support program at Western Kentucky University offers academic, social, and personal assistance to students on the spectrum. Undergrads benefit academically by attending required group "study tables" four times each week. At each session, trained tutors provide help with coursework as well as executive functioning skills. To develop their social competence, KAP members attend monthly "socials" and participate in regular activities with their mentors. And for personal growth, KAP provides access to counseling (either individually or in a group), while students who need a little extra space can opt for a private dorm room.

  5. Edinboro University
    Location

    Edinboro, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Edinboro's BASIS (Boro Autism Support Initiative for Success) program gives students with ASD a boost by helping them develop their daily living, social, and academic skills. To do so, this top college for students with autism provides peer mentoring and professional coaching to BASIS participants. BASIS staff members also help arrange classroom and testing accommodations for program members who have specific needs in those areas. Writing specialist services are also available for those who find written communication to be a challenge. And while program costs are already modest, Edinboro may be able to offer additional funding that further reduces any out-of-pocket expenses.

  6. Defiance College
    Location

    Defiance, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    In general, Defiance College's top Asperger's college support program breaks its services into three categories: academic success, social/personal growth, and residential support. But the ASD Affinity Program will also tailor its services to each participant's individual needs. To support this approach, the program conducts personal evaluations each spring. During these evaluations, undergrads meet with staff to discuss their progress and develop a new plan for the upcoming year. Note that Defiance offers one of the most robust residential programs on this list: Dedicated apartment-style housing is available to students on the autism spectrum, and all RAs have received special training so that they can offer support, behavior modeling, and interventions as necessary.

  7. University of Montana
    Location

    Missoula, MT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students anywhere on the autism spectrum will find support at the University of Montana, but those who need speech or language help will particularly appreciate the school's program. That's because this affordable college for autistic students includes direct speech language therapy as one of its five core tenets. Other areas of focus include academic and social support, where both trained professionals and classmates help program members develop their skills. The program directors use evidence-based practices (such as scripting, modeling, and social narratives) to ensure that their interventions will truly help the students who need them.

  8. Rutgers University
    Location

    New Brunswick, NJ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Like most options on this list of the best autism college support programs, Rutgers provides its ASD students with peer mentors, employment prep, and plenty of life skills support. But the school further distinguishes itself by personalizing its services to meet each student's needs. For example, individuals who are nervous about navigating around campus can sign up for a personalized tour of the transportation options. Faculty and mentors also work with program participants to develop goals - both academic and social - and then design strategies for achieving them. Another primary contact for students is the program coordinator, who conducts weekly check-ins and facilitates communication with teachers and classmates as needed.

  9. Western Michigan University
    Location

    Kalamazoo, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Like some other options on this list, Western Michigan's affordable autism college support program begins the summer after high school. Incoming freshmen arrive on campus nearly eight weeks early, giving them plenty of time to acclimate to the dorms. During this extended orientation, they'll complete a part-time work-study job and enroll in their first college course. Once the school year begins, ASD students will benefit from a whole host of additional services, including a peer mentoring "Best Buddies" program and organized social events. WMU's Autism Services Center also offers informational workshops that run the gamut from "Dating 101" to "Test Taking Skills." And seniors can take advantage of the Workforce Recruitment Program, which connects them with federal and private-sector employers.

  10. Texas Tech University
    Location

    Lubbock, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    For individuals who need more intensive support as they pursue higher education or vocational training, Texas Tech could be the answer. This top college for students with autism runs a three-year Transition Academy program, which includes daily classes that strengthen attendees' job, social, and life skills. Students at the academy can enroll in music, fitness, and nutrition classes, plus attend various social events and participate in volunteer opportunities. What's more, academy members who plan to enter the workforce can sign up for internships that are supervised by trained job coaches.

Thanks for reading our ranking of the 20 top colleges for autistic students!

Sources:
Autism Speaks
Autism.com – Understanding Savants
College Navigator
NCES IPEDS Data Center

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